Media Essays: 100 Facts About Disney (1-10)
Updated: May 14
The Walt Disney Company sure has been around all our lives, hasn't it? I doubt there's any human being alive that was there before the company ever existed.
First founded all the way back in 1923, the Walt Disney Company has become a media enterprising juggernaut that not only is home to its own content, but also owns Pixar, Marvel, Star Wars AND Fox and all the content they've created over the years too! And now we're in 2023, this year will mark 100 years of The Walt Disney Company. Like damn...we're in a situation where Disney is officially going to be 100?! I doubt Walt Disney himself would've guessed his company would've ever lasted that long, but here we are!
100 years is a long time for any company to be around and in those 100 years, Disney has done quite a lot whether it's making movies, theme parks, TV shows and so much more and while the company has been responsible for a lot of good...they're also responsible for a lot of bad too but as I say, blame the people running the company, not the company itself.
Now Disney's actual centenary anniversary will be on October the 16th so this isn't going to be a celebration post. But it is going to count down to that anniversary. This will be a monthly essay series in where I list of 100 facts about Disney. They can be facts about anything Disney related whether it's about the movies they make, the companies they own or the people that work there. Each entry will contain 10 facts and will go throughout the year until we reach 100. Also expect more Disney related posts throughout this year to celebrate such an occasion.
In the meantime, enjoy as we countdown the first 10 facts about Disney for this monthly series...
1: Walt Disney not only created Mickey Mouse, but was also the original voice of the character
Creators voicing their creations is nothing new and is still done even to this day but this may be one of the earliest examples of such a thing happening. Walt Disney would be the first of many actors over the years to provide the voice of the iconic mouse character, giving him that high pitched falsetto voice that we all know. It's certainly a weird thing to hear when you contrast that with Walt Disney's natural speaking voice and how much deeper he actually sounds. XD Walt would voice Mickey up until around 1946 where his regularly busy work schedule meant he couldn't provide the voice as regularly anymore and his smoking habit likely didn't help matters. Come Fun and Fancy Free, he would pass the torch over to veteran Disney actor and musician Jimmy Macdonald who would go on to voice the character until around 1978.
Disney's career may have started with a mouse, but let us not forget that Mickey's voice all started with a man, the very man who created him...
2: Walt Disney was also a big train enthusiast
Walt Disney may have loved fairy tales, stories and making movies but do you also know what else he loved? Trains. It's probably no coincidence that many of his animated movies and some cartoons the studio produced feature trains in some capacity.
This train obsession he had actually started back from his childhood in where his father actually worked as part of a track installation crew for the Union Pacific Railroad and his uncle was a locomotive driver for the Santa Fe Railway. Walt would even get a job working as a news butcher on the Missouri Pacific Railway during his teen years and he would sell newspapers, candy, cigars and more to passengers on the trains. When he turned forty-six, he bought his first Lionel Train set, Lionel being a former company that made amazingly detailed and workable miniature trains that you could set up in your back garden and ride on. Walt wasn't the only train enthusiast though. Some of his employees such as animators Ward Kimball and Ollie Johnston were train fans too and had their own functional railways in their back gardens. Walt decided to beat them at their own game with his own so in 1949, he purchased a 5-acre-land in Los Angeles where he would lay out nearly 800 meters of tracks for his model steam railway which is in the 1:8 scale. He named this railway the Carolwood Pacific Railroad in reference to 355 Carlwood Drive, his home address. What's really sweet is that he even named his locomotive "Lilly Belle" after his wife, Lillian Disney. Nice, isn't it? ^^
This railroad of his would even be part of the 1951 Donald Duck cartoon Out of Scale in where Donald would have his own miniature railroad he would ride around on while the mischievous chipmunk duo Chip N' Dale get caught up in his fun along the way.
With Walt being such a big train enthusiast, do you ever wonder if he liked Thomas the Tank Engine at all? Imagine Disney retelling the Railway Series...
3: Cinderella saved The Walt Disney Company
It's hard to imagine a world without Disney, isn't it? Yet it came SO close to happening and WOULD'VE happened if it wasn't for this movie. Yes really, Cinderella of all movies saved Disney from going bankrupt. How so?
Let's go back in time to Disney's early years. Come 1937, they released Snow White and the Seven Dwarves, a movie that proved that people would enjoy full-length feature films made with animation. Then came the 40's where World War II was happening and that really threw a wrench in Disney's plans. For three years running, they would release movies that just kept bombing because the war made it much harder for people to go and see movies at that time. I mean who wants to watch a cartoon about Pinocchio or Bambi when bombs are dropping from the sky and all that?! It also didn't help that the army were pretty much running the place and caused the studio to make nothing but package films during the war period which gave them work to do at least but they weren't able to make the kind of films that they wanted to make. By 1947, the studio was over FOUR MILLION DOLLARS IN DEBT! If my company was that much in debt, I'd have crapped myself! 0_0
So come Cinderella, it was make-or-break for Walt Disney. He had to put whatever he had left from the company into this movie and its success or failure would bank on how Cinderella did at the box office. If Cinderella bombed, that would be the end of it. The company would've closed down and Disney wouldn't have carried on existing today as we know it. Talk about the darkest timeline... But thankfully, that never happened. The film went on to become Disney's biggest success since Snow White with a box office gross of $182 million, which more than helped make up for their debt and it even went on to receive three Academy Award nominations, including Best Original Song for "Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo". So I guess Cinderella proved one thing: dreams CAN come true after all.
Oh and while we're talking about Cinderella...
4: Cinderella's transformation is Walt Disney's favourite piece of animation ever made
The Walt Disney Company animated a lot of memorably iconic moments that remain some of cinema's most memorable scenes in all of film. But of all the animation pieces the studio produced during Walt's time, this scene where Cinderella's rags transform into her elegant ballgown was Walt's personal favourite.
The scene was animated by one of Disney's Nine Old Men, Marc Davis, whom is also responsible for animating characters such as Snow White, Bambi, Thumper, Flower, Cinderella herself, Alice, Tinker Bell, Maleficent and even Cruella de Vil. I wonder how he felt at the time hearing that Walt's favourite piece of animation was a piece HE animated. I hope it didn't give him a swelled head or what not...
Regardless, this magical transformation was magical in more ways than one given Walt liked it to the point of naming it his favourite piece of animation ever produced during his time...
5: Don Bluth was a Disney animator before he went his own way
We all know Don Bluth as the legendary animator and film director who is responsible for such beloved animation classics like The Secret of NIMH, The Land Before Time, An American Tail and All Dogs Go To Heaven. But what was his life like before he went his own way? Well, he was actually one of Disney's animators at the time.
He first got a job at Disney in 1955 where he worked as an assistant to John Lounsbery as he and others were working on Sleeping Beauty. Don...didn't enjoy it much. He left in 1957 as he found the work he had to be "kind of boring". But he would return to Disney again in 1971 as an animation trainee. The first Disney film he worked on was Robin Hood in where he animated scenes such as Robin Hood stealing Prince John's gold, Robin Hood rescuing a rabbit infant and romancing Maid Marian near a waterfall. He would animate Rabbit alongside John Lounsbery in Winnie the Pooh and Tigger Too and would get major positions such as directing animator on The Rescuers and animation director on Pete's Dragon in where he would also be the animator for Elliot the Dragon. His last involvement with Disney was 1978's short film The Small One and around the time of The Fox and the Hound, he would quit Disney and leave with several other animators that also weren't pleased with how the company was going at the time, including John Pomeroy and Gary Goldman whom would work on many of Don's own projects with Don himself.
His time at Disney may not have been the flashiest ever, but it did pave the way for the man who would later beat Disney at their own game with films like An American Tail and The Land Before Time beating The Great Mouse Detective and Oliver and Company respectively at the box office. This in turn later inspired Disney to step up their game and create the Disney Renaissance as we know it. So yeah, this guy kinda played a part in the Disney Renaissance of the 90's when you think about it. I can't help but pity him for leaving Disney to do his own thing only to unintentionally play a part in making them successful all over again. Whoops. XD
Still, we know Don as a legendary animator and film director who made some animation highlights. But let's not forget that he was also a part of Disney once upon a time too...
6: It took two years to animate The Lion King's wildebeest stampede
Remember the wildebeest stampede from The Lion King? Who am I kidding, of course you do. It's like THE most memorable scene in the movie. Despite being a two and a half minute scene, it took two years to animate the whole thing. Crazy, isn't it?
As you can probably imagine, there was no way the animators were ever gonna be able to depict this scene in hand drawn animation as it would've been hell trying to draw every single wildebeest running through the gorge like that and considering how many there are, I think it would've taken them the entire 90's decade just to animate it by hand! So they used computer animation to animate the wildebeest with hand drawn only being used for up close shots of them when there aren't so many in one shot. The wildebeest were created in a 3D programme, multiplied into hundreds, cel shaded to look like 2-D animation and given randomized paths down the mountainside so as to simulate a more realistic depiction of a herd in motion as they can have unpredictable movements. Five specially trained animators and technicians spent more than those two years just creating this scene. And needless to say, their hard work paid off as the scene even to this day still manages to be as exciting and intense as it was the first time any of us watched it.
This just goes to show that sometimes a long time spent working on something can have a worthwhile payoff.
7: Beauty and the Beast was the first animated movie to be nominated for Best Picture
Animated movies don't get the respect they deserve, I swear. The Academy Awards hardly ever nominate for anything big outside of Best Animated Short or Best Original Song or what not and they pretty much created the Best Animated Feature category so they can lump all the animated movies in together while the live-action movies get all the glory, especially when it comes to Best Picture. And yet there have been at least two animated movies that got a nomination for that award.
The first of course was 1991's animated classic Beauty and the Beast. During the 64th Academy Awards, it was nominated alongside Silence of the Lambs, Bugsy, JFK and The Prince of Tides with Silence of the Lambs being the overall winner. While it's sad that Beauty and the Beast didn't win it, this is still a historical moment in cinema history for no animated film had EVER been nominated for Best Picture before hand and it wouldn't be until 2009 when Up got a nomination for Best Picture and then in 2010, Toy Story 3 would also get nominated for it. Beauty and the Beast remains the only animated film to be nominated for Best Picture while there were only five nominees rather than the ten that the Oscars go for nowadays.
This kind of legendary achievement goes to show why Beauty and the Beast is such a beloved classic amongst the Disney canon. It was a tale as old as time that was so good that it made history by getting nominated for an award that animated films only dream of ever getting. While we're on that subject of Best Picture winners...
8: During the 90's, Pocahontas was expected to be the Best Picture Winner
During the time of the Disney Renaissance, Beauty and the Beast was nominated for Best Picture as mentioned above. Now with Pocahontas, this was quite an ambitious project beyond anything we've seen from Disney before or since. Why is that? Because the crew at Disney thought this movie would be the one to WIN the award, never mind getting nominated.
It might seem hard to believe as Disney doesn't seem to talk about this as much as their other movies but during production, the crew were ridiculously enthusiastic about the project to the point then studio-chairman Jeffrey Katzenberg (you know, the guy who left Disney to found DreamWorks) was convinced it would be their biggest hit yet and would be another Best Picture nominee, or even a winner. It was to the point where most of the staff working at Disney wanted to work on Pocahontas rather than The Lion King which was seen by them as the "side project" while Pocahontas was the main event. And what happened when it was released? It didn't even get nominated and was seen as a step-down from The Lion King, which was far more successful critically and financially than Pocahontas ever was. The Lion King would go on to become a 90's pop culture icon that is still massively popular to this day while Pocahontas remains one of the more overlooked movies of the Renaissance era and is even viewed as the cause of its downfall. Yeah...that ambition sure backfired hard on everyone, didn't it?
This should serve as a cautionary tale on how passion is good for a project, but don't expect to reap the rewards and just set your goals to a more realistic level. I mean an animated movie EVER winning Best Picture at the Oscars? VERY unrealistic goals indeed. =P
9: Roald Dahl and Walt Disney once met and tried to make a movie together
Yes people, this was an actual moment in Disney history that actually happened. I swear I couldn't make this up if I tried! Walt Disney and Roald Dahl actually met once and tried to make a movie together!
This honestly sounds like a match made in heaven, doesn't it? A movie made by Walt Disney and Roald Dahl! Imagine what we could've got if it did happen? Walt Disney and Roald Dahl would meet each other in the hopes of making Roald's novel, The Gremlins into a movie. Roald was an RAF pilot before he became an author and he would write his Gremlins book based on stories that English men would tell of little saboteurs called "Gremlins" that would be responsible for equipment failures during their RAF days. During that meeting, the two would become friends and Walt would even invite Roald into his studio. Walt would jokingly nickname Roald "Stalky" because of his great height of six foot and six inches, like a "stalk of corn" as he'd say. Despite the two being friends, they did have a issues like Roald apparently "seeming more interested in flirting with the studio's female staff than getting down to work" and Walt becoming frustrated that Dahl couldn't be pinned down on the exact details about the Gremlins so that work could proceed on the movie. But they nevertheless had mutual respect and appreciation for each other.
The Gremlins was Roald Dahl's first ever book and it was written with the hopes of it becoming a movie...but that never happened. Well at least Roald still got to write his first book so it wasn't a total waste for him. So why didn't the movie get made in the end? It was a multitude of factors that ultimately contributed to it such as the studio being un able to establish the precise rights of the "gremlin" story, the British Air Ministry being involved in the production and insisting on final approval of script and production and a realization that the Air Ministry's "Clause 12" in the original film contract would restrict the studio. Walt did have a personal interest in the movie but in the end, he had to wind down on it and the project was eventually scrapped. It would've been interesting to see what these two would've made together if it hadn't been cancelled.
But don't feel too sorry for Roald. As we know, he went on to have a VERY successful career as a children's author after the movie that never came to be so he got out of this alright in the end. Nevertheless, it will never cease to amaze me that these two legends once met and I'll always wonder on what could've been...
10: Tim Burton worked on The Fox and the Hound
We all know who Tim Burton is at this point. The famed director of many cinematic icons such as Batman, Batman Returns, Edward Scissorhands, Sleepy Hollow and also bring the producer of The Nightmare Before Christmas. He's recently become a hit over on Netflix with his Wednesday series. But would you believe me if I told you he worked on The Fox and the Hound of all movies?
Around the time of The Fox and the Hound, a lot of new animators were brought in as the old ones were reaching retirement age and it was time for a passing of the torch. Tim Burton was among them and although he went uncredited in the finished movie, he did have a role in animating the character of Vixey, Tod's love interest. Yeah, you wouldn't think this pretty vixen from a Disney film was animated by Tim Burton of all people, would you? She looks decidedly...un-Burton in terms of design and a far cry from his usual style. XD Because she was so distant from Burton's usual style, he would apparently only animate her with distant shots and would only animate up close shots of her after he "grew to like her". It never ceases to amaze me what some of these filmmakers can have in their portfolios. Who'd have guessed Tim Burton once animated a character in a Disney film at some point in his life?
And those are the first ten facts about Disney to kick off our 100 years of Disney celebration. Did any of these interest you? Feel free to tell me so down below. Join me next month for ten more facts as the countdown continues. In the meantime, next week will be a Top 10 list of my favourite Paldean Pokémon. See you then everyone!